Ticks are pretty common: if you’ve spent any time outdoors in warmer months, you’ve likely encountered ticks at some point. But are tick bites dangerous? Let’s find out!
In this article, we’ll talk you through the potential dangers of ticks, how to avoid them and prevent them from biting you, and how to safely remove a tick from your skin.
Ticks are small blood-sucking parasites that live in heavily wooded and grassy areas. These eight-legged creatures — which are part of the arachnid family, along with scorpions, mites, and spiders — vary in size and color, ranging from shades of brown or reddish-brown to black. Some may have lighter markings on their backs.
Ticks can’t fly or jump, so they usually hide in the grass or shrubs and wait for their potential host to pass by.
As you brush against the grass ticks are hiding in, they quickly climb on you and then crawl to the area they deem suitable for feeding.
Because of their small size, ticks can be hard to spot, but they start to grow as they take in more blood. At their largest, they can grow to about the size of a marble. After feeding for several days, a tick can change color and turn greenish-blue.
Ticks are attracted by the body heat of their future host. They can attach themselves to any part of your body, but they prefer warm, moist areas with soft skin and plenty of blood. The first areas you need to check for ticks are:
Once you’re back from the area where you might have encountered ticks, make sure to check your entire body. If you have pets, check them for ticks too, as ticks are just as likely to bite our furry friends. Discuss using tick-repellent products for your pets with your veterinarian.
When a tick reaches a desirable spot, it bites into your skin and starts drawing blood. They usually stay attached to your skin for up to 10 days after they bite you. Once they start sucking on your blood, they get bigger and easier to spot.
Unlike other blood-sucking bugs, ticks tend to bite you once. You may not feel it bite you; tick bites usually don’t cause any itching either. However, sometimes you may experience an allergic reaction to a tick bite and get a rash or a small hard lump that looks like a mosquito bite.
Tick bites themselves are often harmless and don’t cause any symptoms, except for a skin reaction. But if you are allergic to ticks, you may experience:
That being said, ticks can carry bacteria, viruses, infections, and diseases that can be dangerous or even life-threatening when not treated promptly, such as:
It typically takes more than 24 hours of feeding for a tick to pass on an infection. So, the sooner you see and remove a tick from your skin, the better.
Your risk of catching a tick-borne disease depends on where you live or travel to, as different areas have different risks.
Most of the tick-borne diseases share the same symptoms that include:
Most symptoms appear within a few days or sometimes weeks after a tick bite. If you notice any of them, seek immediate medical help. Take a picture of a tick that bit you with you if you have it. Different types of ticks transmit different illnesses, so seeing the tick that bit you can help your doctor identify potential risks.
The most important thing you can do if you find a tick on your skin is to remove it as soon as possible. You can do it yourself with a pair of clean, fine-tipped tweezers — avoid touching it with your bare hands.
If you noticed a tick bite shortly after being outdoors, chances are you won’t get any potentially dangerous infections or develop any symptoms. But you may want to check with your doctor regardless, to eliminate any risks and put your mind at ease.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
Seek immediate medical attention if you develop:
Preventing tick bites is the best way to avoid a tick-borne disease. If hiking is your passion or you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in heavily wooded areas, follow these simple steps to protect yourself from tick bites:
Tick bites are common and often harmless. But they can carry potentially harmful diseases like Lyme disease. So it’s important to take precautions if you’re working or spending time outside.
Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when in tick-prone areas, treat your clothes and shoes with 20 percent DEET or 0.5 percent permethrin, and check yourself for ticks after you’re back home. Remove a tick from your skin if you see it on you and make an appointment with your doctor if you start developing any allergy or flu-like symptoms.